The Dakota Zoo currently has 125 species on display from all across the world. This summer they are welcoming their 126th: the endangered African penguin!

“The African penguin is one of the rarest members of the penguin family,” said Terry Lincoln, director of the Dakota Zoo. “Contrary to popular belief, most penguins live in warmer climates, and the coasts of Africa where this penguin originates from have a lot of oil barge traffic. If one ship runs aground in the wrong place, it could wipe out half of this beautiful bird’s entire population in one fell swoop. Worse yet, African penguin guano is highly prized as fertilizer, and people have begun destroying their nesting grounds to harvest it.

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Photo Credit: Rich Barrios

“African penguins are remarkable little birds. In the summertime the special patches above their eyes glow bright pink, which is their natural way of staying cool. They can hold their breath for up to six minutes while diving to depths as great as 100 feet. That’s impressive for a five-pound animal – about the same size as one of North Dakota’s smaller hawk species.

“But perhaps best of all is the African penguin’s call. They’re also known as the ‘jackass penguin,’ and you’ll understand why the second you hear one call out for the first time. I’m looking forward to putting that name on their exhibit, because I know the kids are going to love reading it out loud to their parents.

“Our newest guests are getting first-class accommodations, with indoor and outdoor pools so they can stay active all year round. We’ve also made their habitat extremely realistic with plenty of natural rock formations, because we want them to feel comfortable enough to breed in captivity.

“There won’t be any breeding during the first year, though, as we’ll only have eight males. This will give them time to stake out their territory and establish their pecking order before the females arrive in 2022. If you want to see the only African penguin stag party in the Midwest, then you’ll have to come visit the Dakota Zoo this summer!

“This is the best time of year to see all of our other animals, too, especially as we have recently unveiled our two new trains. They take our guests on a three-mile circuit through the zoo so they can comfortably see most of our animals. Our trains make the Dakota Zoo easy to appreciate for people who would rather not walk so far, as well as small children who get burned out easily.”

The Dakota Zoo is home to a great variety of local animals. The American buffalo which used to blanket North Dakota’s landscape are there, as are prairie dogs, wolves, red foxes and elk. (The zoo’s lone elk stag will begin emitting his eerie, screeching mating call around October.) Dakota Zoo’s uffish grizzly bears spend their days seeking out the fruit, nuts and leafy things stashed around their enclosure, which the elk are glad to have safely distanced from their own.

But it’s really the exotic animals which make any American zoo truly spectacular. Cat lovers can get lost for hours in the big, bright eyes of the massive Bengal tiger, the long-legged serval, the elusive snow leopard, and the Pallas cat whose unusual round pupils give her an indescribably frank expression. Purists who insist on only appreciating American cat species can still enjoy the mountain lion and the lynx.

Primate lovers can rejoice at the Dakota Zoo. Go to witness the lanky siamang inflate his bulbous throat pouch and sing his “haaaaa-hoop-hoop-hoop-HOOP-HOOP” song to the world. The cotton-top tamarin doesn’t have to utter a word to win hearts with his Doc Brown coiffure, but the golden-headed lion tamarin easily outdoes him in terms of pure style. That New World monkey is a natural blonde.

All of this is to say nothing of Dakota Zoo’s 110 other beautiful animals.

“We’re glad to be able to welcome back the big crowds now that the world has calmed down a little bit,” said Terry. “Dakota Zoo has offered the perfect family outing in the Bismarck area since we first opened our gates in 1961. We especially hope you’ll come out to see our new African penguin exhibit later this summer, and learn a little bit about why this bird’s conservation is so important to our zoo.”

Dakota Zoo is located at 602 Riverside Park Road in Bismarck. You can learn more about them by visiting dakotazoo.org.

 

By David Scheller